In an era where some games tend to get weighed down by convoluted designs, overindulgent narratives, and overdone mechanics, simplicity can often times not only evoke brief moments of nostalgia, but can also deliver us a much needed escape from modern games. One such example of simplicity is Gun Monkeys -- a game that involves nothing more than one-on-one arena combat between two gun-toting future monkeys.
Gun Monkeys (PC)
Developer: Size Five Games
Publisher: Size Five Games
Released: June 28, 2013
There really isn't too much to Gun Monkeys at first glance. After all, the game is literally just an arena battle experience that pits monkeys with giant guns and power-ups against each other as they battle for energy cubes. Every match plays out the same -- you have to both grab cubes and deliver them back to your base (three at a time) and frag your opponent until the energy count for their home base reaches zero -- at which point, you win the round, and go onto your next battle. If you bring back cubes, your counter goes up, and if you kill an enemy his counter goes down. The tricky part is out-playing your opponent and avoiding all the environmental hazards that get in the way.
Since the arenas are randomly generated, you're going to have a different experience every time you play. While more themes would help alleviate some similar-looking maps, the random generation does a really great job of mixing things up, and the underwater and space themes completely change the way you approach each level.
Given the lack of NPCs, it's a good thing Gun Monkeys has support for online as well as local play -- all of which is strictly for two players -- no more, no less. For those of you who may need a refresh or a crash course on platforming tactics, there's a lovely five-minute tutorial to help you get started and up to speed.
English actor Kevin Eldon (who is frequently and prominently mentioned) lends his voice as the narrator, and generally does a pretty good job. During the tutorial specifically he teaches you the basics of the game, and has a bit of fun jabbing at the poor monkey's unfortunate situations, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately his quips are far less frequent during matches, which detracts from the production a bit.
Platforming is a bit floaty, but given how versatile the double-jumping and wall-climbing mechanics are, after a few matches I was ready to go. Strategy, twitch and a bit of luck are key factors here, as you can constantly rain fire down on your opponent to deplete their energy reserves. Grabbing new guns like the Contra-inspired "Retro" spread shot and the shoot-through-walls "Sniper" also help, and contribute to the aforementioned luck factor if they drop into your lap -- but nothing can substitute for good old-fashioned skill, and power-ups don't drop too often to really break the game.
Should you succeed online, you'll start accruing cash that can be used to unlock perks -- none of which are particularly game-breaking, but help add to the replay value. New characters, map themes and more would be a neat idea for future updates however, because while the perks are fairly balanced, they also aren't all that exciting. More modes would detract from the condensed "quick-queue" concept, but down the line it wouldn't hurt to give people a reason to keep playing.
Once you start combing your regional servers, Gun Monkeys states that if you aren't seeing any games, "just wait," as matches in progress do not show up on the server list, and opponents will populate when they're done fighting. In my experience this is absolutely true, but it would be ideal if there was still a list of in-progress games, as it would be great to at least see that you may be jumping in sooner than later. A better lobby system that allows for spectators and full-on sub-lobby chat would be even better.
As long as you don't come in with any expectations above a simple arena combat game, Gun Monkeys is a great way to spend a weekend. It takes the basic idea of competitive 2D platforming and runs with it, which can result in some pretty high-octane skill-heavy matches, which, in short spurts, I had a blast with. Just keep in mind that you may need to fall back to local play when the server population slows to a crawl.
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